The One And Only Ivan

Me: Look how cute this cover is! I am so excited to read this book.

LS: Oh, that is adorable.

Me: I see two cute animals there is no way I am getting through this one with dry eyes, huh?

LS: (appraises cover) No way…hysterical crying may be involved.

The above is the excerpt from my conversation with a coworker about The One and Only Ivan . We were both correct- tears were definitely involved. Patricia Castelao’s black and white  illustrations give faces to a lovable cast of characters. I make very unattractive snorking noises when I cry so to those of you who may read this in public or to a class and are also easy criers- be warned.

My copy of this books smells like freshly painted office spaces.

Katherine Applegate’s  The One and Only Ivan is a fresh release (2012) and a deeply moving story.    

It is based loosely on the real life of a gorilla who lived alone in a shopping mall exhibit for the first twenty seven years of it’s life without ever seeing another member of it’s species. The real Ivan is now a beloved member of the Zoo Atlanta family after the pubic protested Ivan’s conditions at the shopping mall.

The book is narrated from Ivan’s perspective and through his eyes we meet: Stella the aging elephant, George the janitor and his artistic daughter Julia, Bob the stray dog, Mack the mall and circus owner, and Ruby the baby elephant. Ivan is a simple and straight forward narrator whose objective observations of humans switch between painful and heartwarming. 

The animals have background stories that will leave you aching.  Applegate deftly weaves each one into the present tense of the story.  Ivan is the son of a great silverback gorilla and in the beginning of the story Ivan seems to feel disconnected from this genetic legacy. He is reluctant to remember the time before he was at the mall exhibit.

This story is Ivan’s coming into his own and discovering his true purpose and ability to guard and care for those around him.  He is the one and only Ivan, silverback, protector of his family.

For Ivan the day  baby Ruby arrives is the day his journey to self realization begins. Ruby is still crying for her mother when she is brought to the mall to share Stella’s cage. Stella cares for Ruby the best she can, but the day comes when circumstances force her to ask Ivan for help:

“”Ivan ,I want you to promise me something,’ Stella says.

‘Anything,’ I say.

‘I’ve never asked a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in  a cage.’

When I say the words, they surprise me. ‘You want me to take care of Ruby.’

Stella nods, a small gesture that makes her wince. ‘If she could have a life that’s….different from mine. She needs a safe place, Ivan. Not-‘

‘Not here,’ I say

It would be easier to promise to stop eating, to stop breathing, to stop being a gorilla.

“I promise,Stella, ‘I say.”I promise on my word as a silverback.'”

Ivan finds  purpose in this promise.It is an opportunity to hone and use his unusual talents.This book would make a great, albeit emotional class read aloud. Also a treat for yourself or animal lovers you know. Follow Ivan on his journey to save his loved ones and to  find his destiny. It will not be a journey you regret taking.